EU prepares sanctions against Russia over Crimea

On Wednesday 12 March, the European Parliament agreed on a framework for sanctions against Russia. The sanctions would impose travel bans and asset freezes on people and firms Brussels believes to have violated the integrity of Ukraine. The EU is prepared to take harsher measures such as arms embargo’s and trade measures, if need be.

Russian support of Crimean separatists, and possible accession to the Russian Federation by Crimea has spurred tensions between Russia and the West. The United States has already announced sanctions in response of Russian aggression. Russia pledged to retaliate sanctions, but EU leaders seem to be betting that Russia has more to lose than they do. Europe’s trade withRussia was worth 335 billion euros in 2012 alone.

In a speech to the German parliament, German chancellor, Angele Merkel, said Russia risks great economic en political damage over Ukraine. Concerning Russia’s involvement in Crimea, she told the Bundestag: "We would not only see it, also as neighbours of Russia, as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union's relationship with Russia […] No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically". Merkel lamented that Russia was destroying years of post-Soviet rapprochement and that: “The territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question”.

Yatsenyuk in Washington

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited the White House on Wednesday, in an attempt to put pressure on Russia. US President Barack Obama said: “We will continue to say to the Russian government that if it continues on the path that it is on, then not only us but the international community, the European Union and others will be forced to apply a cost to Russia's violation of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine".

On 16 March a referendum will be held in Crimea on region’s future. Voters will have to pick between joining Russia or adopting an earlier constitution that described Crimea as sovereign. The regional assembly says that if Crimea becomes sovereign, it will sever ties with Ukraine and join Russia anyway.

Acting Prime Minister Yatsenyuk sounded audacious, saying: "We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, we fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender”. However, Yatsenyuk said his government was prepared to look at a political solution, nationwide dialogue about the future of Ukraine, with more autonomy for Crimea.

The G7 (The US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) called on Russia to stop the referendum from taking place. In a statement they said they would take further action, independently and collectively, if Russia would annex Crimea.

In the Ukraine

The all-important referendum is to take place on Sunday 16 March. The pro-Russian camp has a majority on the peninsula and is expected to win. Ahead of the referendum, Ukraine has voted to create a 60.000 men strong national guard to bolster the national defense. The new National Guard is expected to be recruited from activists involved in the recent pro-Western protests.

In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin insist Russia is not to blame for the current crisis. He told Paralympic delegates in Sochi: “Russia was not the initiator of the circumstances that have taken shape”. While tightening its grip on Crimea, Russia is moving ever further away from the West.  

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg, The Guardian I, The Guardian II.

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